Insulin Pen Use: The Basics What is diabetes?

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Insulin Pen Use: The Basics
What is diabetes?

There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is when your pancreas does not produce any insulin. People with type 1 diabetes must have insulin by injection to control their blood sugar.

  • Type 2 diabetes is when your pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when your body is insulin resistant. People with type 2 diabetes can sometimes be treated with pills, insulin or a combination of both.

Why do I need insulin?

When foods containing carbohydrates (starches, grains, milk, fruit) are digested, the food is broken down into sugar. At this point, the sugar remains in your blood. Insulin helps move sugars into the cells where it is needed to produce the energy your body needs to function normally.

What is insulin?

Your body needs sugar to make energy. This occurs inside your cells. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that helps move sugar into these cells. Without insulin, sugar stays in your blood causing high blood sugar or hyperglycemia.

What is hyperglycemia?

Hyperglycemia is when the sugar in your blood is too high. If left untreated, severe hyperglycemia can be dangerous. Hyperglycemia can damage blood vessels and nerves in your eyes, heart, kidney and feet.

What is a good blood sugar?

Talk to your care team about your very own blood sugar targets. Everybody is different and there are many things to consider in setting blood sugar targets. However, Diabetes Canada recommends:

  • Fasting or pre-meal blood sugars be between 4.0 – 7.0 mmol/L

  • 2 hours after eating, your blood sugar targets should be 5.0 -10.0 mmol/L

What is hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia occurs when the sugars in your body are too low. Hypoglycemia can be very dangerous. Hypoglycemia occurs when your blood sugars are less than 4.0 mmol/L or if you feel any of the following:

  • Excessive sweating

  • Hunger

  • Blurred vision

  • Headache

  • Lack of concentration

  • Faintness

  • Shaky

  • Tingling

  • Difficulty awakening

What to do if you have hypoglycemia:

  • Test your blood sugar.

  • If it is under 4.0 mmol/L, take 15 grams of carbohydrate. Examples of carbohydrate include glucose tablets, ¾ cup of juice, ¾ cup of regular pop, 6 lifesavers or 3 teaspoons of sugar.

  • Wait 15 minutes, and retest. If it is still under 4.0 mmol/L, retreat.

  • If someone is unconscious, call 911. Give Glucagon if available.

Injecting insulin with an insulin pen is easy!

99% of people who are on insulin use insulin pens. In the hospital you were using disposable pens. There are also pens where you load a glass cartridge into a reusable pen. However, we recommend asking your health care team for disposable products. They are safe, convenient and easier to use.

Here is a checklist to help you remember the steps involved in giving insulin:

Wash your hands

Gather supplies – glucometer, test strips, insulin and pen tips

Check your blood sugar

If using cloudy insulin, rock it back and forth to mix

Attach needle tip

Dial up 2 units to prime and squirt it straight up into the air

Dial up the desired dose

Insert insulin at a 900 angle on a flat part of your skin

When needle tip is fully inserted, push down plunger with thumb

Count 10 seconds to allow the insulin to absorb into your tissue

Remove needle from your skin

Remove needle from pen and put it into sharps container

Choosing areas for injections:

The best spot for injecting is into your abdomen. Remember to stay 1 inch away from your belly button, any scars or bumps under your skin. You can also inject into your thighs, buttocks and arms. Your health care team can help you determine the best site for injecting.

  • Bumps under your skin may develop if you do not rotate your sites frequently enough. These are called lipos. Lipos prevent insulin from working properly. Avoid injecting near these areas.

Injecting correctly:

  • Inject insulin at a 900 angle to your skin.

  • We recommend using a 4mm or 5mm pen needle tip. Current research shows you do not need to use a longer needle. You can ask your health care team for the best needle length for you.

  • Do not forget to hold the needle in for at least 10 seconds after the dose has been given.

  • If you have shaky hands, we recommend using two hands. One hand to support the pen and the other to push down on the plunger. This will give you better support.

Tips for success:

  • Unopened insulin is to be stored in your refrigerator.

  • Opened insulin is stable, at room temperature, for 28 days.

  • Use a new needle every time you inject.

  • If you are unable to prime the pen, try using a different needle.

  • Always inject straight into the skin – never through clothing.

  • Eating regularly and taking your insulin as prescribed is important to your overall health.

  • Always carry a sugar supply in case of emergencies.


  • Your blood sugar must be “5 to drive”. We recommend checking your blood level every time you get behind the wheel and more frequently when driving for long periods. Different laws exist if you drive commercially.

For further questions, please ask a member of your health care team. If you would like to visit a diabetes education center please call: (905) 522-1155 extension 32045 to book an appointment. No referral needed!
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